Pharmacist association left in dark as province moves to cap drug dispensing fees

The Manitoba government says it will put a cap on pharmacy dispensing fees for provincial drug programs effective this summer — but an association that represents pharmacists calls the plan hasty and claims it could hurt patients.

Cap to limit how much pharmacies can bill province for professional fee

The province says effective later this summer, it will put a cap on pharmacy dispensing fees for Manitoba drug programs. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The Manitoba government says it will put a cap on pharmacy dispensing fees for provincial drug programs effective this summer — but an association that represents pharmacists calls the plan hasty and claims it could hurt patients.

"We are concerned that this was implemented without any consultation at all," Barret Procyshyn, board president for Pharmacists Manitoba, said in a statement. 

"This policy will affect the dispensing of medications for thousands and thousands of Manitobans and can potentially impact hundreds of independent businesses around Manitoba."

Currently, pharmacies can charge a professional fee of their own choice and set prices according to such things as overhead costs, profit margins and market dynamics.

But under the cap, which takes effect Aug. 18, pharmacies can charge provincial programs no more than $30 per prescription, regardless of the base cost of a drug or how it's packaged.

The limit under the Pharmacare Program will be the same when medicinal ingredients are mixed and prepared for an individual patient's needs, while there will be a $60 Pharmacare cap when drugs need to be compounded in sterile conditions.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement that the changes are expected to save about $11 million a year.

The province also says it will ensure pharmacies are still able to recover their dispensing costs.

Procyshyn said Pharmacists Manitoba understands the need to find savings in light of the Pallister government's current cost-cutting mandate. But, he says, Goertzen's office still needs to "consult meaningfully" with pharmacists going forward to ensure Manitobans aren't adversely impacted.

"This is about patient safety, and about availability of specialized medication such as cancer medications and biologics, particularly in rural areas for rural patients," he said in a statement. 

"By cutting support for these procedures, the government may either reduce the availability of the service, or see the costs passed directly to patients, or both.

"Manitoba pharmacists want to work with government and be part of a solution, but this can't happen without any consultation at all — otherwise patients will suffer in the end."

A spokesperson with Manitoba Health disputed Pharmacists Manitoba's claim, saying the province had alerted the organization to the coming changes in early May.

"Pharmacists Manitoba met with the provincial drug program May 2, 2017, and was informed that a policy addressing changes to high cost drug dispensing fees would be communicated to pharmacists as early as this summer," the spokesperson said. 

"It was agreed that Pharmacists Manitoba could recommend 'guiding principles' to [the provincial drug program] for consideration in the policy development. On May 17, 2017, [Pharmacists Manitoba] sent a letter outlining policy development guiding principles to the province."

With files from The Canadian Press